When Can I Introduce My Baby to Cow's Milk or Plant-Based Alternatives?

Article By
Anna
Published On
16 Nov, 2022
Read Time
2 minutes

As they begin to move on from breast milk or formula and start weaning, lots of parents wonder when their baby can start to drink cow's milk.

Let's find the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about introducing little ones to cow's milk or plant-based alternatives. 

When can my baby have cow's milk?

Once they turn 12 months old, you may still be breastfeeding, but you can start to introduce your baby to full fat or whole cow's milk in a cup, or even pasteurised goat's and sheep's milk if you're feeling adventurous!

Although cow's milk can be used in cooking from six months it isn't suitable in volume before this age because it can cause stress to their immature digestive systems due to high concentrations of proteins which are harder for your baby to process.

Once your baby's main source of milk is cow's milk, it's important to avoid giving them too much of it so that they don't get too full and start rejecting other types of food.

Giving your baby at least 350ml to 400ml of cow's milk per day is about right, that's roughly two cups of milk. However this can be made up of products made from milk such as yoghurt, fromage frais or cheese.

Semi-skimmed milk (1-2% fat) can be introduced from two years of age, but skimmed milk (less than 0.5% fat) isn't recommended until they're five.

Of course, a small percentage of children are allergic to or intolerant of dairy, and will therefore be unable to drink cow's milk at all. If you are worried that your baby might be allergic to dairy, we recommend speaking to a doctor or dietician about alternatives.

When can babies have plant-based milk?

Unsweetened oat, almond and soy alternatives are also an option as part of a healthy, balanced diet from 12 months, but they're not ideal as a main drink unless under certain circumstances or when a healthcare professional such as a dietitian has recommended them.

Milk and dairy are important sources of nutrition so if parents are planning on giving an alternative for any reason, they should discuss this with their GP or health visitor.

It's also important to look at their labels and nutrition facts panels to see if they've been fortified with nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and protein as these are important for a baby's development.

Babies and young children under five years old shouldn't be given rice drinks because of high levels of arsenic. Don't worry if your child has already had rice drinks, there's no immediate risk to them, but it's best to switch to a different kind of milk.

Why is cow's milk not suitable as a drink for babies under 12 months?

Cow's milk doesn't contain the balance of nutrients that young infants and babies require in the first year of life. For example, there's not enough iron, vitamin E or essential fatty acids for a young baby in cow's milk. It may also be too high in protein, sodium and potassium too.

Can I continue to breastfeed if my baby now drinks cow's milk?

Once you've introduced cow's milk into your baby's diet, there's no reason to stop breastfeeding altogether if you and your baby are still happy to do so. Experts say that it's fine to continue breastfeeding your child after their first birthday and the World Health Organisation advises that babies are breastfeed for up to two years and beyond.